- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

Democrats risk "slitting our own throat" politically if they oppose President Bush's proposal for a Homeland Security Department, Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, told his colleagues yesterday.

"I can think of no more unattractive picture our party could have projected six weeks out from an election than what's taken place on the floor of the Senate the past three weeks," Mr. Miller said. "It has just been one long negative ad for the other side free of charge."

The Senate has spent three weeks debating the homeland security bill. Yesterday, Republicans ensured the debate would continue when they defeated a Democrat-backed motion to proceed to a vote on the Democrats' alternate plan.

The alternate proposal wouldn't authorize the flexibility Mr. Bush has sought to limit union rights in national security emergencies and to hire and fire employees of the new department. Mr. Bush had threatened to veto such a plan.

"It's almost as if the president is being blackmailed that if he wants people transferred to one department, he's got to be wiling to give up powers that every president since Jimmy Carter has had to use them," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican.

Mr. Gramm has joined Mr. Miller to write another proposal designed to combine Democrats' structure for the new department with the flexibility and union rules items the president has said are non-negotiable. Mr. Bush has endorsed the proposal. House Republican aides said if the Senate passed that version, Republicans could quickly negotiate a compromise between it and the bill that passed the House in July.

The Gramm-Miller proposal was written specifically to hold the support of all Senate Republicans. So far, no Democrat besides Mr. Miller is publicly supporting it, and at least one Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, was undecided yesterday afternoon.

He said Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, has lobbied him on behalf of the president.

As he was talking to a reporter yesterday, he was approached by Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and John B. Breaux of Louisiana. The two Democrats are working on still another compromise on union rules, and hope to win Mr. Chafee's vote.

Mr. Breaux disputed Mr. Miller's analysis of the politics of the bill.

"Slitting my throat? Let me think about that. I think anytime you're trying to stand up for American workers and make sure things are being done properly is what homeland security should be all about," he said.

Republicans yesterday defeated a Democrat-backed measure to limit debate on the bill. The "cloture" motion required 60 votes to pass, but it gained only 50 votes 49 Democrats and one independent while 48 Republicans and Mr. Miller voted against it.

Republicans and Mr. Miller said limiting debate would have made it impossible to vote on their substitute. That would have forced a vote on Democrats' version, and the president said he could not accept the bill in that form.

But Republicans also have called for swift action on the bill, and Democrats said the cloture motion was their chance for that.

"They were the ones who have said now on several occasions that it's the Democrats holding up homeland security. Well, it's the Democrats who filed cloture," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said before the vote.

Democrats said they were not sure how much support the Gramm-Miller proposal would find among their members. Mr. Miller, though, said he won't be the only Democrat voting for it in the end.

Mr. Miller also said his fellow Democrats won't be able to hide behind their support of the president on Iraq if they oppose him on homeland security.

"There's some of this around here," he said. "No senator should think that they can oppose the president on this, and then just come back and cover their rear by voting with him on Iraq. They're making a terrible mistake if they think they can do that."

Also yesterday, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chief sponsor of the Democrats' proposal, offered an amendment along with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that would establish a special commission to look into intelligence failures that preceded the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Senate will vote on the proposal next week, and members of both parties said they think it will pass. The House approved a commission with a more narrow mission as part of another bill in July.

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